This week I have been discussing the implications of Zinc Deficiency and Malabsorption in Huskies. Today I will be discussing another issue that has its roots firmly planted in Zinc Deficiency and Malabsorption, seizures in Huskies.
Whether your dogs have been diagnosed as having Epilepsy or Idiopathic Seizures, there is no more heartbreaking sight than to be forced to stand by helplessly watching your Husky convulsing on the floor having a seizure.
I will be discussing what seizures are, how Zinc plays a part in this issue for Huskies, and I will give you interventions that you can use to either lessen your dog’s condition.
There Has To Be A Better Way
You may know, one of my Siberian Huskies, Jhett, was diagnosed with Idiopathic Seizure activity when he was 14 months old. When I took him to the Vet, she determined that he did most likely have a Gran Mal seizure. I was certain he had a Gran Mal seizure because Jhett was not my first Husky to have seizures.
My very first Husky, over thirty years ago, also had seizures, but Misty really did not start having seizures until she was five years old. I did not start medicating her until she was the age of seven. I had hoped that I would never have to be dealing with this issue again. Yet here I was, standing in the Vet’s office, and hearing the same few tired options.
The Same Old Thing
How was it that in over 30 years of medical advancements this condition in huskies was no better understood? Nor were there any real advances made as far as solutions to this problem were concerned? Are all Husky owners just relegated to being at the mercy of this condition? Why does nobody offer new answers or information as to what we can do to save our dogs from this fate?
I was not satisfied hearing the old tired pat answer of “predisposed” being tossed around by the Veterinary Community. Vets will tell you that Epilepsy is not a genetic condition. Yet breeders and experienced husky owners will tell you that this condition does tend to run in certain lines. So if there is no gene marker for this condition, then why does it run in certain lines? There has to be some explanation as to why this happens in a portion of these dogs. If this condition is not genetically linked, then there must be something that we can do to prevent this condition from manifesting in our dogs.
Searching For Answers
With my first Husky, I followed my Vet’s instructions and medicated my dog. I used Phenobarbital after the seizures started happening more frequently. I had no appreciation for how lucky I was with my dog because she only needed a small amount of this drug daily. Not everyone is so lucky. It did, however, take its toll on her liver. She passed away at eleven years old. I feel the effect of the meds reduced her life expectancy.
Jhett being only 14 months old I was reluctant to start medicating with anticonvulsive drugs. I decided that if the Vet could not give me better answers, I would have to find them myself.
And so began a 4-month long regime of looking for answers from everywhere. I read breeder blogs, asked questions, looked for patterns. I compared notes, read books on genetics, biology, animal husbandry, homoeopathy, and medicine. Determined to find answers to how this non-genetic condition manifests itself like an inherited disease in our Snow Dogs.
I have a diverse background in Science and Alternative Medicine. This allowed me to start slowly and painstakingly start piecing together a picture of what is truly at the root of this issue. This is where I first started to make the zinc deficiency and malabsorption connection. I realised how pervasive and important this issue is for this breed of dog.
Zinc And Seizures
In the other two articles, Zinc Deficiency: The Hidden Cause Of Chronic Sickness In Huskies and Correcting Zinc Deficiency In Huskies, I discussed the issue of how a lack of Zinc causes so many of the medical problems that can plague Huskies.
Epileptic Seizures or Idiopathic Seizures are one those conditions that can be caused by insufficient available Zinc to complete body processes. The “end of the line” body process calls for Zinc to be present to help with Taurine ( an amino acid) uptake, which among other things, works to smooth over neurotransmitters in the brain. When Taurine cannot do its job due to a lack of available Zinc, the outcome over time is the brain starts firing irritated electrical impulses randomly and erratically. This is a very simplified description of a seizure.
In the other articles, I also described how there are two major issues for Zinc Deficiency in Huskies: either there is an insufficient amount of Zinc contained in the Husky diet via poor quality food, OR there are sufficient quantities of Zinc in the body, but it cannot be properly absorbed in the intestine and utilized by the body. Both cases result in Zinc not being available to fully supply the daily amounts needed to complete all the body processes. Long term Zinc Deficiency is a powerful catalyst for many of the common medical conditions that exist in Huskies and Malamutes, one of those conditions being Seizures.
My Husky Had A Seizure. Now, What Do I Do?
If your dog has had a seizure event, your Vet will want to make an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, seizure activity is diagnosed oddly. The Vet will test to rule out other contributing factors for the seizures. If they do not find evidence of other underlying factors, then Idiopathic Seizure activity becomes the diagnosis. Once the seizures begin happening with some regularity (more often than once a month), then the diagnosis changes from Idiopathic (seizures with unknown causes) to that of Epilepsy. For the diagnosis of Epilepsy to be made, the seizures must happen often, and the episodes must be similar in nature.
If your dog has begun to have seizures, you will want to start keeping a detailed log about your dog’s seizures. Document the date, the dog’s behaviours leading up to the seizure, a description of the actual seizure, and the dog’s behaviours after the seizure.
What Is A Seizure?
A seizure is a temporary convulsion due to erratic and uncontrolled bursts of neurological firings in the brain. These firings can be localized and show up in just one limb or the face, or they can affect the whole body causing twitching, paddling, or jerking of the limbs.
Different Types Of Seizures
Grand Mal Seizure
The most recognized type of seizure is the Gran Mal Seizure. In this type of seizure, the whole body stiffens and alternatively contracts in cycles (tonic/clonic action). During these seizures, the dog will not be conscious, will drool, twitch, jerk, and it may urinate and defecate. These seizures can vary in length. They can also appear singly or in multiples called (clusters) where the animal’s twitching abates and then starts again into another seizure.
This kind of seizure originates in a localized area of the brain, so it tends only to involve limited regions of the body. There is no loss of consciousness, only loss of control of the affected body part.
This kind of seizure manifests itself with the animal doing certain involuntary behaviours like whining, barking, howling, snapping at the air, or walking in circles. At times this Psychomotor Seizure may be followed by a full Generalized Grand Mal Seizure.
The Stages of Seizure
Most seizures follow a set pattern:
- First, many dogs become agitated or restless because they can feel that something is not right their body and their head (an aura). Some dogs try to hide, or they may seek out their owners to look for help. This stage is called the pre-ictal phase.
- The dog may start to tremble. His eyes may glaze over. He may jump up and start to grimace or twitch.
- If the dog is having a Grand Mal seizure, he will fall over on to his side, stiffen and begin to paddle his legs. He will twitch, convulse, and contort his body violently. His teeth will clench and clamp down. He will salivate, snort or gasp for air, and he may have trouble breathing. This stage, called the ictal stage, will last for varying amounts of time depending on the dog and his specific seizure pattern.
- At some point, the convulsing ceases and dog starts to regain consciousness (referred to as the postictal phase). However, he will not regain all of his senses right away. They may not be able to see well or hear for some time after the seizures. They will often pace, pant heavily, and seem extremely agitated and disoriented. The foggy state can last anywhere from an hour or up to two days.
- Once the postictal phase has passed, most dogs are exhausted and just want to sleep in a darkened room while their brain recovers from this experience.
How To Care For Your Dog During and After A Seizure
It is vitally important that you help keep your dog safe before and after this experience. Because a dog has no real control of his seizures, that means that when a seizure strikes, he will fall over and have the seizure regardless of where he is at the time. You may have to move the dog to a place where he can be safe while he has the seizure. Move him away from furniture that he can bang into. Move him to the floor so he will not fall off from furniture during the seizure. Make sure that there is nothing for him to get his teeth caught on during the seizure.
Jhett once had a seizure in his wire crate. He often ran to hide in his crate if he felt a seizure coming on. He fell over in his crate sideways, and his teeth clamped down on the wire bars of his crate as the seizure struck. Because of the violent nature of the convulsions, I had to dive into his crate with him (good thing it was a large crate) and hold his head as still as I could so that he would not break off his teeth during the thrashing that is associated with the convulsions.
After the convulsing stops and the dog begins to regain consciousness, you have to supervise them to keep them physically safe during the post-ictal stage. Because there can be some temporary blindness and deafness, these dogs can easily hurt themselves by running into walls, furniture, or by falling down the stairs but because these dogs will also feel the need to pace during this phase you really cannot just put them into their crates to keep them safe.
Barricade off any stairways and keep doors closed to keep them contained to a small area of the house and allow them to pace until they are ready to stop.
At this time, you may need to administer drugs or remedies to the dog. Never try to place something into the dog’s mouth during the seizure. Your dog will clamp down on your fingers, and you may be injured. After a seizure, it helps to give the brain some much-needed energy so you can rub some honey his gums. When the trashing stops, just lift the skin on his lips and rub honey on his gums.
Cold packs on the back of the neck can help cool your dog down if he’s too warm.
When the dog is ready to lie down and rest, he will appreciate a quiet darkened room or crate. Bright light and noise are not welcomed by a brain that just had a seizure. Also, make sure to monitor your dog to make sure that he is breathing easier and that another seizure is not about to happen. Some dogs’ seizure pattern includes clustering so they may have several seizures in a row with little or no break in between.
Jhett’s Final Seizure
While it is believed that most seizures are not lethal for your dog, some are. In April of 2014, after being seizure-free for a record 89 days, Jhett had a seizure while he was sleeping on the couch. I ran to help him, but instead of his normal seizure pattern, he began to have back to back a cluster of seizures.
He had a cluster of 13 seizures in under 30 minutes, and he died in my arms. I had no chance to take him to the hospital or to say goodbye to him. I felt helpless and useless as stood by watching him have seizure after seizure. Jhett endured 33 seizures (not counting the final 13) in the 4.5 years of his young life.
Common Treatment Protocols Offered By Veterinary Medicine
It may come as a surprise to many owners of Epileptic dogs that the use of anticonvulsant drugs rarely eliminates seizures. The intent of using a therapeutic drug protocol is merely to attempt to reduce the frequency and the intensity of the seizures so that a dog can live a more comfortable life. There is no “cure” for this condition. It can only be managed.
Drugs that your Vet may consider using for your Epileptic Husky:
Phenobarbital is probably the most commonly prescribed barbiturate drug. This drug can take a few weeks to build up blood levels where it can suppress seizures in your dog. This drug is not without side effects. It has a sedative effect on your dog, and it tends to collect in the liver and can cause liver damage. If your dog is taking this drug, regular blood tests will need to done to check your dog’s liver function. This drug also tends to cause excessive thirst and appetite in the dogs who take this medication.
Owners are shocked by discovering that 20% to 30% of dogs’ seizures cannot be controlled by only using Phenobarbital. They may also need to use Potassium Bromide, a long-acting benzodiazepine. This drug will be given in addition to Phenobarbital if blood levels show that the Phenobarbital alone has not been effective at stopping the seizures. Potassium Bromide alone is less effective at treating seizures but is not known to cause liver damage though there is evidence that this drug can cause hind end leg stiffness.
It is believed that 25% to 30% of dogs who take a combination of Phenobarbital and Potassium Bromide will still not have their seizures completely controlled by these drugs. If your Husky is still having seizures, your Vet may suggest using some of these other anti-seizure drugs:
A drug that gets converted to Phenobarbital in the bloodstream but has more side effects than the Phenobarbital, and it is more expensive.
Used in human Epilepsy but has only a limited function in treating epilepsy in dogs. It works in the same way that Valium does. It is not recommended for long term use in dogs.
This drug is related to Diazepam and works in emergencies when seizing is out of control. There is a tolerance that will be developed, so dosage will need to be constantly increased.
While it is low in side effects, it is costly as it requires multiple daily doses.
Another expensive drug that requires multiple daily doses.
This has minimal side effects but is also expensive due to the multiple daily dosing requirements.
Sulfa class anti-seizure drug that can work well with more traditional therapies. It has many of the same side effects that you would come to expect from other sulpha drugs.
Alternative Treatment Protocols For Treating Or Managing Seizures
There are many supplements that you may wish to consider giving your Epileptic Husky. Many of these can be given in conjunction with anti-convulsive medications. Always check with your Vet for possible drug interactions.
Can be added to your dog’s diet. Essential Fatty acids help with good brain functioning. Anything that allows your Husky’s brain to function more optimally is likely to be helpful in this situation. You can safely add 1000mgs – 1200mgs of fish or krill oil to your dog’s diet.
Supplement to help with calming down synaptic firings in the brain. You can try adding 500mgs – 1000mgs of L-Taurine to your dog’s daily diet.
Add to your dog’s diet to help bring available levels up in the body. Use picolinate, gluconate, chelated forms or methionine forms. Avoid sulphate or oxide forms. Starting dosages are 25 mg per 50 pounds of dog weight given once daily. These dosages can be incrementally increased to 50mgs and then up to 100mgs given once daily. Mild Zinc toxicity starts at just over 200 mg as a one time dose. Lethal toxic doses begin at 900 mg.
You may wish to add nutraceutical products that add Zinc to the diet like Zinpro and Nutrazinc.
Also consider using a herbal combination like Neuroplex, to aid in brain functioning.
Many Homeopathic Remedies work to support brain functioning. Still, because Homeopathy works very specifically with individual constitutions, you really should consult a qualified Homeopathic Doctor to help you choose the best remedy that matches your Husky’s presenting constitutional issues.
My long time good friend and Jhett’s doctor is Dr Terezihna Jones. Dr Jones has many years of experience in this field, and she also teaches Homeopathy for the British Institute of Homeopathy. Many consults can be done over the telephone and remedies will be mailed out to you usually the same day. You can contact Dr Jones here, https://www.facebook.com/ZihnasLight.
Canine Chiropractors are often not thought of when it comes to Epilepsy, but due to the violent nature of the convulsions, the neck and head are often out of alignment. Nearly everyone who has violent seizures will have C1 jammed up into Axis in the skull. When the spine is out of alignment, it interferes with how electric impulses travel in the body.
You are what you eat holds true for dogs too. To make sure that the brain functions optimally, a good diet is a must. Foods should be high-quality food, with good protein sources, no animal by-product, and no chemical preservatives.
As wheat, corn and soy, create phytates in the digestion and phytic acid binds to Zinc, making it unavailable to the body, these grains should be removed from your Husky’s diet.
Make sure that you add lots of foods that naturally high in Zinc. A detailed list of these foods can be found in my article, Correcting Zinc Deficiency In Huskies.
Lastly, if you are feeding an all Raw Diet or a Home Cooked Diet make sure that you understand how to feed a diet that is properly balanced in vitamins and minerals to avoid creating a zinc deficiency in your dog. Please refer to my article, The Husky Diet: Raw Food and Cooked Homemade Diets for more information on this topic.
Prevention Rather Than Management
Once your Husky has this condition, you are now relegated to managing it as there is no known cure. You can use one of the many protocols listed above to help manage your dog’s condition. You may even be lucky enough that a management protocol will be enough to keep your dog from having more seizures. However, if your dog has this condition, he will ALWAYS be predisposed to Zinc Deficiency, and this will make him predisposed to having seizures.
The best way to avoid the heartache of being relegated to your managing this disease in your Husky is to avoid the circumstances that yield Zinc Deficient Huskies. Prevention of this condition is crucial to having a healthy husky. If you are thinking of obtaining a Husky and it comes from one of the following situations, rethink your purchase!
Prevention Of Predisposition To Zinc Related Issues Is The Key
- The only way to prevent a dog from being predisposed to Zinc issues and for seizures is not to pass on the condition of predisposition.
- Never breed dogs that have seizures in their lines. Scientific test breeding of epileptic dogs was done, and it showed that 38% of dogs born to one epileptic parent also had the condition. And 100% of the dogs born to two epileptic parents were also epileptic. These dogs should never be used for breeding. If the breeder is breeding known epileptic Huskies, walk away very quickly from the deal. No deal is worth having to manage a sick dog.
- Never buy puppies from lines that have Epilepsy in them. Reputable breeders don’t produce poor quality puppies but unscrupulous breeders to sell these dogs. Do your homework and run a check on the breeding lines before purchasing a puppy from a breeder.
- Never buy dogs from inexperienced backyard breeders or puppy mills. Your puppy’s health will only be as good as the health of the parent. If the Mother is fed a Zinc poor diet, the puppies are automatically going to be predisposed to having a Zinc Deficiency and all the conditions that go along with this condition. That means that when you buy a poorly bred Husky, you are automatically in danger of buying a dog who will also be predisposed to having seizures.
- Before committing to buying a dog from a breeder, ask about the diet he feeds his Huskies. If he feeds a diet full of grains, a poor quality diet, or a Zinc poor diet, pass on buying a dog from them. These puppies will most likely be predisposed to Zinc Deficiency.
How To Spot A Husky Who Is Predisposed To Zinc Deficiency
The common characteristics of Huskies that are predisposed to Zinc Deficiency:
- The Husky may be smaller in size than is considered normal for the breed. It may be very fine-boned. This occurs because Zinc Deficiency is related to the incidence of Dwarfism.
- The Husky has constant issues with digestion, elimination, or with feeble appetite or a failure to thrive.
- The coat is dry, brittle, or patchy instead of deep, soft, and luxurious.
- The Husky has raised crusty patches of dermatosis around the nose, eyes, mouth, groin area, or on the paw pads.
- The husky has thyroid issues.
- The husky has seizures.
What You Can Do To Prevent Your Husky From Becoming Zinc Deficient
If your Husky shows no signs of being Zinc Deficient here are some things to do to keep them from becoming Zinc Deficient:
- Feed your Husky a breed appropriate diet right from the start.
- Make sure that the protein sources in his diet come from whole meat and not from meat by-product. Use no food that is filled with chemicals and preservatives.
- Feed foods that are naturally high in Zinc so that your Husky never falls into Zinc deficit.
- Feed a no grain diet as wheat, corn, and soy make Zinc unavailable to the body.
- Be an informed Snow Dog Owner. Know the special requirements of this breed to prevent problems from ever happening in the first place.
It is my fondest hope that this series of articles serves to inform the public about the devastating effects of Zinc Deficiency in Huskies and Malamutes. If I can prevent this horrible condition from manifesting itself in your Snow Dog, then Jhett’s condition will serve a higher purpose.
As always, we welcome your comments, questions, and stories on this topic. When we share our wisdom and our stories, we may well be helping someone who is struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.